Broadband boost for Local Government

Local Government could be one of the chief beneficiaries of the National Broadband Network, according to a leading academic in the field.

Doctor Helen Thompson, Director of the Centre for eCommerce and Communications (CeCC) at the University of Ballarat, shared insights on opportunities available through the digital economy to Local Government, businesses and communities, in an address to the 2011 National Economic Development Conference in Adelaide in October.

Helen Thompson, whose doctorate of Business Administration thesis was entitled Reflections on Effective Implementation of Information and Communications Technology in Regional and Rural Areas, drew from examples of her centre's work to demonstrate the diversity of online services organisations are adopting to generate time savings, efficiencies, knowledge and engagement benefits.

She also spoke on the benefits to Ballarat of being home to the largest technology park in regional Australia and the opportunities for it to leverage the next generation of broadband to federate regional Australia's data using interoperable Geographic Information System technologies.

Helen Thompson emphasised the importance of strategic planning and the benefits of partnerships, which support business, Local Government and universities in prioritising actions that foster innovation, new technologies and enhanced broadband readiness.

She painted a picture of her home base, Ballarat, as a vibrant and dynamic Information and Communications Technology (ICT) centre, with the University of Ballarat Technology Park (UBPT) principally focused on fostering and supporting the growth and development of enterprises operating in the ICT sector.

"The park is now the largest regional technology park in Australia with $65 million in capital assets and hosting 30 enterprises employing more than 1,500 people."

"Every job in the park creates another within the region."

"The direct and multiplier economic outputs generated are in excess of $300 million a year, with an injection of $100 million in household income."

UBTP was positioned for further growth with plans to almost double its geographic size to accommodate eight major buildings and employ more than 1,500 additional people with the goal of supporting further enterprise development, research and innovation.

"Ballarat has been fortunate to have had entrepreneurial and forward looking local leadership that has guided policy and action.

"IBM's commitment to the region has been significant.

"Investment by State and Local Government in supporting the development and growth of the Ballarat ICT Cluster has also been important.

"Activities like the 'Get into Games' festival build awareness of viable careers in the ICT sector."

"Partnerships across health, education and government foster innovation through projects which focus on the application of ICT to achieve social, environmental and sustainability goals."

"Early rollouts of the National Broadband Network in Bacchus Marsh and Ballarat surrounds will create new opportunities for technologies to be used to develop a smarter and more sustainable region, for local businesses to reach new markets, for Local Government to deliver services in new way and to enhance services and practices in areas including environmental management, health and education."

She pointed to UB Spatial as an interoperable web GIS initially established in collaboration between the University of Ballarat and Corangamite Catchment Management Authority.

The project was focused on providing the most relevant and current natural resource management data into an environment capable of being shared and accessed by catchment managers, researchers, consultants, municipalities, government agencies and the public.

Since its implementation, the project has attracted co investment from the Colac Otway Shire (COS), through the National Disaster Mitigation Program, to construct a landslide database.

Additionally, the Municipal Association of Victoria, through the Broadband Innovation Fund supported the extension of the web GIS portal to COS and the Corangamite Shire —the South West Knowledge Hub project.

Helen Thompson said the next step for the project is to leverage high capacity broadband networks to visualise Victoria's groundwater systems, distribute bore data and create web based tools to construct and display 3D models on the fly.